WLP07 Values

Is it necessary to share the same values as those we work with? Lisette and Pilar discuss whether this is the case and whether it's important to make your values explicit to the other members of your virtual team.

00.30 Pilar talks a bit about why sharing our values might help us work better together.
07.46 What is 'ethical blindness'?
13.45 Virtual coffee with Lisette Sutherland
14.28 Lisette reports back on her experiment on Feedback.
18.45 What do we mean by "values"? Why is this important for virtual teams?
31.50 Cognitive dissonance.

Values at Work

This episode includes a virtual coffee with Lisette Sutherland and during it, we talk about the complicated topic of Values. And I say complicated because I am struggling to define how it affects us at work. Before I try to make some sense of it, however, let me say that it’s quite 21st century to talk about values at work and knowing our values and our company’s values. And I also think that the reason why it’s difficult to talk about it is that the word is used often but the concept is then missed out on much of what we do.

Let’s see if I can order my thoughts… As Lisette explains during our coffee, values are our personal beliefs that help us to make decisions. So, you can see why we can talk of our values being aligned, of why things are easier if we share similar values. So, for example, if you define yourself by your job, if you think that exceling at work is the most important thing in your life, then you’re not going to understand that I mark my evenings and weekends as sacrosanct, because I want to be with my family. If these values are not made explicit, if I don’t share with you why I don’t reply to your emails until Monday even if they’re marked urgent and if you don’t share with me the fact that you don’t want to bother me over the weekend but you’re very concerned about a current piece of work, then we’re going to be in trouble. I’m not saying that if we make these values explicit we’re not going to have problems, because we will, but at least we can find out ways of sorting them out, once we stop taking things personally and understand where we’re coming from.

Similarly, if you are working in a team that values privacy and where people don’t ask much about others’ private life but for you it’s very important to know the people around you as much as possible to feel like you can trust them, then you might be taking this guarding of private life as a sign that people don’t trust you.

Now I know that I might be going wider with “values” than their proper definition, but I hope it doesn’t detract us too much from what we’re looking at today.

I suppose we all have values, principles by which we live our lives. There are the “big values” like the causes we might pursue, injustices we want to fight in the world or causes we want to fight for, but then there are those smaller ones which guide how we live our life, like believing that saying hello to a bus driver in the morning is important, or believing that we need time to focus on ourselves by not lifting our eyes from a book when we are on a train.

The idea is that values, and I’m also going to use the word principles here, are constant, that they don’t change with a situation. I’d like to quote here Dennis W Bake, who is the CEO of the energy company AES and author of the book Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job. Now, I haven’t finished the book so can’t quote him extensively but one of the first chapters is dedicated to values. And I really liked this rhyme which he quotes in the book and in the way he quotes it, it seems like it’s a well-known quote, but I’ve never heard it so if you have, do let me know what its origin is: “Methods are many, principles are few. Methods change often, principles never do.”

So, this matters at work because sometimes we might not understand why people are behaving in certain ways, and it might just be a question that their values are different to ours. Or, and this is especially important for people who have some position of authority, it’s also important to realise when we might be asking people to behave in a way that might be against their principles – or when we are role-modeling certain behaviours which we don’t want to role model. It’s all about stopping to think whether our actions are in line with our principles. If we’re in a position of authority, this will affect how we’re seen by others, and to be honest, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a position of authority or not, your actions speak volumes regardless. But we also need to be aware whether we are acting in a way that is not consistent with our actions and we might therefore feeling uncomfortable or, and this goes against the rhyme I cited earlier, we might find ourselves having to change our values to avoid feeling uncomfortable. (And I speak about this during my coffee with Lisette, I talk about cognitive dissonance.)

Values and principles always have a moral tone to them, so I thought this would be suitable episode to talk about a concept I’ve recently come across, the concept of ethical blindness. And this is the kind of behaviour that anyone can find themselves doing, however much integrity you have, however much you are a person of principles who tries to act in an ethical manner.

I came across this term during Coursera’s MOOC, Unethical Decision Making in Organisations. And basically, ethical blindness occurs when I cannot see that I’m deviating from my own values.

This is usually context bound, it’s temporary, it happens because different things are occurring around me. And when the situation changes, I go back to my usual self, and only then, do I realise that I was acting unethically, only then do I realise I wasn’t the person that I strive to be.

Context becomes very important, because you create your own rationality within that context. It can be either, well, I’m being told to do it, so I’d better follow orders or it could be “Well, everyone else is doing it, so it can’t be that bad”… you see where I’m going with this.

There are also different pressures that can lead to this, Authority pressure, where just because you’re being asked to do something by someone with authority or who acts like they have authority, you might just give in. And I can cite the experiments here of Stanley Milgram, who basically set up experiments asking participants to give people electric shocks – the people were actors pretending and no shocks were being given, but the participants didn’t know this. 65% of them went on to administer 450 volts, which would result in a lot of pain. They continued to this at the experimenter’s request, even though they were incredibly uncomfortable with doing this.

There is also peer pressure, which sometimes we might not be able to notice is affecting us, and for this, do have a look at the experiments by Solomon Asch. There is role pressure, this is what my role requires me to do, so I do it and time pressure – which can result in cutting corners in order to make deadlines.

So I found the Coursera course on Unethical Decision Making incredibly interesting and I suggest you check it out, if it’s not open now, then keep an eye out for when it’s next open, its’ really interesting and very well put together.